by Menucha Ezagui
MyLife Essay Contest 2015
Do you ever feel a violent war, dramatic movie, hilarious comedy or romantic story constantly taking place and replaying itself in your mind? And every few hours the characters pop in, to pay a visit or say “hello” invisibly, during the most important parts of your day or life? Well, good news for you, you are not alone. Many writers intentionally or unintentionally showed in their books this idea of thoughts and its lasting effects on how it leads to speech and action. Thank God we can’t see or read other people’s minds, because we would have a very different view of people if we could. This is a very well-known topic in Tanya and it is referred to as Machshava, Dibur and Maase-thought which leads to speech and then to action.
Our hardest part is stopping the thought before it leads to the next two steps, speech and action. Don’t worry! God created the cure before the sickness. All we need is the right method and steps that work for us. So practically speaking, what should we do? Ignore it? That’s easier said than done. Chassidus and especially chapter twenty eight in Tanya gives us a simple and logical three point method to solve this problem on a day to day basis and during prayer specifically. We just have to work on practically applying this to ourselves, in a way that works best for us. It is that simple!
Step Number One-Lidchuf B’shtei Yadayim-Pushing our thoughts away with our two hands. How can we push away something so abstract and unreal with something so physical such as our hands? Well, it doesn’t mean just physically but also spiritually and emotionally. This concept is mainly focusing on bad thoughts during prayer. When the bad thought comes we should do as follows:
1) Physically– Try putting your finger on the words that you are in the middle of reading and make sure your finger is constantly moving with the words. Even if you are not yet paying attention specifically to that prayer, at least you distracted your mind from the bad thought and instead towards your finger pointing towards the words.
2) Spiritually– Tell yourself that by one part of prayer you will concentrate entirely on that part. Like anything else in life you cannot be hard on yourself. Even if your mind wonders off by the rest of the prayers, its fine. Your mind will be trained to stop the negative thoughts at that specific paragraph and this will lead to focusing on the rest. So, when you feel you are ready add more parts or paragraphs until you are completely focusing just the prayers alone.
3) Emotionally– We all have some sort of spirituality in our lives that we strongly feel connected to, whether it is God, a holy person, or even a holy object. When the negative thought enters your mind during prayer or at the wrong time of day try thinking of something personal that you feel connected to. This will fill that empty spot of negativity or dullness with something more holy or positive. Even if you’re not diverting your thought towards the prayer at the moment or the situation you’re in, its still one step closer to bringing you to focusing on the right things.
Step Number Two-He’elos Hamidos-Elevating our thoughts. If you are drowning in an ocean with strong currents which are pushing you down, do you think you would be able to pull yourself out with a rope alone? No. It is impossible for any person. However, there is some hope for a professional swimmer or a Navy Seal only because they specialize in that area.
We are not a Tzaddik, a completely righteous person. When we get bad a thought during prayer or at any time of the day there is no point in trying to elevate our thoughts and fight them. We are not on a high enough level to take our thoughts and change them to good. We wouldn’t even know where to start. The misconception people have is that when we have unholy thoughts we are bad and our prayer is worthless. This would be true if we had one soul. But surprise! We have two, the animal soul and the Godly soul. Since we have two souls we are open to having bad thoughts. When we pray, our Godly soul becomes very powerful and rises up to a high level. For that reason the animal soul feels threatened so to speak, so it brings a bad thought to get in the way of the Godly soul’s power.
Therefore, we are only getting these thoughts because of the level we are on. This should bring a person a lot of confidence and make them want to concentrate and control themselves even more. Positivity works with most people, like when given a compliment you will continue doing whatever got you the compliment in the first place. So think of this as a compliment coming in the form of a thought. When we control it we are only gaining more positive power.
Step Number Three– Don’t be sad or depressed about the negative thoughts that come to distract you. On the contrary, be happy. The animal soul only “upped its game” because it felt like it was losing the battle. Your response should be to “up your game” as well. When you receive a bad thought clap your hands and proclaim. “I am the winner, I don’t care because I am stronger than you!”
We conclude as follows. When a bad thought enters your mind push it away by doing something physical or just let another holy thought in. This will train yourself to focus and concentrate not just in prayer, but in any situation. The next time a bad thought comes think of it as something positive and as an opportunity to become stronger. This should bring in a whole different perspective on negative thoughts. It is not a bad thing to have these thoughts because it is human. It is not negative, it’s positive. We are special because through Chassidut we have the ability to overcome them, one step at a time.